Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Time Patrol 1 - Poul Anderson

"A curious self-knowledge grew in him as the tests proceeded. Manson Emmert Everard, age thirty, onetime lieutenant in the U.S. Army Engineers; design and production experience in America, Sweden, Arabia; still a bachelor, though with increasingly wistful thoughts about his married friends; no current girl, no close ties of any kind; a bit of a bibliophile; a dogged poker player, fondness for sailboats and horses and rifles; a camper and fisherman on his vacations. He had known it all, of course, but only as isolated shards of fact. It was peculiar, this sudden sensing of himself as an integrated organism, this realization that each characteristic was a single inevitable facet of an overall pattern.

He came out exhausted and wringing wet. Mr. Gordon offered him a cigarette and swept eyes rapidly over a series of coded sheets which the assistant gave him. Now and then he muttered a phrase: ". . . Zeth-20 cortical . . . undifferentiated evaluation here . . . psychic reaction to antitoxin . . . weakness in central coordination. . . ." He had slipped into an accent, a lilt and a treatment of vowels which were like nothing Everard had heard in a long experience of the ways in which the English language can be mangled.

It was half an hour before he looked up again. Everard was getting restless, a faint anger stirring at this cavalier treatment, but interest kept him sitting quietly. Mr. Gordon flashed improbably white teeth in a broad, satisfied grin. "Ah. At last. Do you know, I've had to reject twenty-four candidates already? But you'll do. You'll definitely do."

"Do for what?" Everard leaned forward, conscious of his pulse picking up.

"The Patrol. You're going to be a kind of policeman."

"Yeah? Where?"

"Everywhere. And everywhen. Brace yourself, this is going to be a shock.

"You see, our company, while legitimate enough, is only a front and a source of funds. Our real business is patrolling time.""

4 out of 5

Mirkheim 7 - Poul Anderson

"Instruments accumulated ever better data, computers analyzed, until it was clear that the strange craft was approximately the size of Alpha, surely as well armed. At last the captain's face reappeared. He was pale. "Madame, we've received a vocal communication. It goes . . . goes . . . quote, 'You will come no nearer, but will match hypervelocity to ours and stand by for orders.' Close quote. That's how it goes."

Eric reddened. Sandra peeled lips back from teeth and said, "We'll go along. However, phrase your acknowledgment, hm, 'We will do as you request.'"

"Thank you, Your Grace!" The captain's whole being registered an appreciation that should spread through the crew . . . though doubtless the Anglic nuance would quite go by the Baburites.

Still the viewscreens held only stars. Sandra could imagine the foreign ship, a spheroid like hers, never meant to land on a planet, studded with gun emplacements, missile launchers, energy projectors, armored in forcefields and steel, magazines bearing the death of half a continent. She would not see it in reality. Even if they fought, she probably never would. The flesh aboard it and the flesh aboard Alpha would not touch, would not witness each other's perishing nor hear the anguish of the wounded. The abstractness was nightmarish. Peter Asmundsen, Nicholas van Rijn, she herself had ever been in the middle of their own doings: a danger dared, a blow struck or taken, a word spoken, a hand clasped, all in the living presence of the doers. Is our time past? Is the whole wild, happy age of the pioneers? Are we today crossing the threshold of the future?"

3.5 out of 5

Mirkheim 6 - Poul Anderson

""I don't know everything," Wyler admitted. "Goddamn, this planet's got eight times the surface of Earth, most of it land surface. Why shouldn't the Imperial Band feel confident?" He thrust out his jaw. "And that will be the last question you get to ask, Falkayn. I'm starting now."

Chee's restlessness had brought her near the Merseian, His alertness had focused itself back on the seated humans. Abruptly she made a final leap, sidewise but straight at him. Landing halfway up his belly, she gripped fast to his garment with her toes while both arms wrapped around his gun hand. He yelled and tried to draw regardless. She was too strong; she clung. He hammered at her with his free fist. Her teeth raked blood from it.

Adzel had taken a single stride. It brought him in reach of Wyler, whom he plucked from the chair, lowered, and bowled backward across the floor. His tail slapped down over the man's midriff to hold him pinioned. Meanwhile Adzel kept moving. He got to Blyndwyr, picked him up by the neck, shook him carefully, and set him down in a stunned condition. Chee hauled the blaster loose and scampered aside. Wyler was struggling to get at his gun. Falkayn arrived and took the weapon from its holster.

Adzel released Wyler and stepped back with his comrades. Wyler lurched to his feet; Blyndwyr sat gasping. "Are you crazy?" the human chattered. "What is this nonsense, you can't—can't—""

3.5 out of 5

Mirkheim 5 - Poul Anderson

"Nobody paid attention until too late, Falkayn thought. Not to hydrogen breathers, who are alien, who can offer us oxygen breathers very little in the way of markets or resources, and by the same token should find nothing to quarrel with us about. There were too many planets which did lure us with treasure, with homesteads, with native beings not hopelessly unlike ourselves. We scarcely remembered that Babur existed—a whole world, as old and many-faced and full of marvels as ever Earth was.

"I think I know where their missing ships are," Chee said. "They were never intended to orbit idle."

Falkayn's mind paced a rutted track: How did Babur do it—how build up so great a strength in a mere twenty or thirty years? They couldn't simply put armament on copies of the few merchant vessels they'd produced. Nor could they simply work from plans of human men-of-war. Everything had to be adapted to the peculiar conditions of Babur, the peculiar requirements of its life forms.

He recalled the shapes of the ships escorting his, bulge-bellied as if pregnant (with what sort of birth to come?). The extra volume housed cryogenic tanks. Air recycling alone was not adequate for hydrogen breathers, whose atmosphere leaked slowly out between the atoms of a hull and must be replenished from liquid gases. A thin plating of a particular supermetal alloy could cure that—but no Baburite knew there was a Mirkheim when the decision was made to found a navy. And the leakage problem was only the most easy and obvious of those the engineers had met.

The research and development effort before manufacture could begin must have been extraordinarily sophisticated. How could the Baburites complete it in the time it had actually taken, they who had never gotten off their home world when men first found them?

Could they have hired outside experts? If so, whose, and how could they pay them?"

3.5 out of 5

Mirkheim 4 - Poul Anderson

"David Falkayn, Chee Lan, Adzel, and Muddlehead were in the saloon playing poker. Rather, the first three were. The computer was represented by an audiovisual sensor and a pair of metal arms. It was an advanced model, functioning at consciousness level, very little of its capability needed en route to maintain the systems of the ship. The live travelers had even less to do.

"I'll bet a credit," said Chee. A blue chip clattered to the middle of the table.

"Dear me." Adzel laid down his hand. "Can I fetch more refreshment for anyone?"

"Thanks." Falkayn held out an empty beer mug. "I'll raise." He doubled the bet. After half a minute during which the faint purr of engines and ventilators came through silence: "Hey, Muddlehead, what's keeping you?"

"The probabilities for and against me are calculable as being exactly balanced," said the flat artificial voice. Electronic brooding continued for a few seconds. "Very well," it decided, and matched Falkayn.

"Ki-yao?" wondered Chee. Her whiskers dithered, her tail switched the stool on which she sat. "Well, if you insist." She raised back.

Inwardly, the human jubilated. He had a full house. Outwardly, he pretended to ponder before he raised again. Muddlehead saw him. "Are you sure you don't need some readjustment somewhere?" Falkayn asked it.

"Whom the gods would destroy," said Chee smugly. Again she raised back. Meanwhile Adzel, his hoofs thudding on the carpet, returned with Falkayn's beer. The Wodenite himself refrained from drinking it on a voyage—no ship could have carried enough—and instead sipped a martini in a one-liter chillglass.

Falkayn raised another credit. Muddlehead saw. Chee and Falkayn peered its way, as if they could read an expression in the vitryl lens. Slowly, Chee added two chips to the pot. Falkayn suppressed a grin and raised once more. Muddlehead raised back. Chee's fur stood on end. "Damn your mendacious transistors to hell!" she screamed, and threw down her hand.

Falkayn hesitated. Muddlehead had implied its cards were mediocre, but—He called. His opponent revealed four queens.

"What the jumping blue blazes?" Falkayn half rose. "You said the probabilities—"

"I referred to the odds in favor of suckering you," explained Muddlehead, and raked in the pot."

4 out of 5

Mirkheim 3 - Poul Anderson

""Well," she said. "What do you have in mind?"

"We should see if we can compromise, or if not that, map out our areas of disagreement. Right?" Story supplied.

"Also horse-trade information," van Rijn said.

"That can be a mighty valuable commodity, especially when it's in short supply," Story observed.

"I hope you realize neither of us can make promises, Freeman van Rijn." Lennart clipped off each word. "We are simply executives of our corporations." She herself was a vice president of Global Cybernetics. "And in fact, neither the Home Companies nor the Seven form a monolith. They are only tied together by certain business agreements."

The recital of what a schoolboy should know did not insult van Rijn. "Plus interlocking directorates," he added blandly, taking up a tiny sandwich of smoked eel upon cold scrambled egg. "Besides, each of you got more voice in things than you let on, ja, you can bellow like wounded blast furnaces any time you want. And those business agreements, what they mean is the Seven is one cartel and the Home Companies another, and got plenty of political flunkies in high places."

"Not us in the Commonwealth," Story said. "That's become your plutocracy, Freelady Lennart, not ours."

Her thin cheeks flushed. "You can say that truly of your poor little puppet states on their poor little planets," she retorted. "As for the Commonwealth, we've now had fifty years of progressive reforms to strengthen democracy."

"By damn," van Rijn muttered, "maybe you really believe that.""

3.5 out of 5

Mirkheim 2 - Poul Anderson

"The room where they met was intended for confidential conferences: long, darkly wood-paneled, its windows open on a lawn where a mastiff kept watch. She had made it her own with souvenirs of her youthful offplanet travels: pictures of exotic scenes, odd little bits of art, weapons intended for nonhuman hands racked on the wall. Entering some minutes in advance of appointment time, she found her eye falling on a battle-ax from Diomedes. Her spirit followed, back through years, to Nicholas van Rijn.

She had never loved the merchant. In many ways, even at that unfastidious stage of her life, she found him almost unendurably primitive. But that same raw vigor had saved both their lives on Diomedes. And she was looking for a man who would be a partner, neither domineering nor subservient toward her who was the likeliest successor to the throne of Hermes. (Duke Robert was then old and childless. His niece Sandra was a natural choice for the electors, since not much else could be said for any of the other possible Tamarins.) Nobody she had met on Hermes had greatly stirred her, which was one reason why she went touring. Whatever his flaws, van Rijn was not a man she could be casual about. No previous affair of hers had been as full of thunderstorms and earthquakes—nor of memories to laugh or exult at afterward. When a year had passed, she knew he wouldn't consider marriage, or anything else she might want that he didn't. Eric was in her womb, because at the time she had been an ardent eugenicist. Regardless, she left. Van Rijn made no effort to stop her."

3 out of 5

Mirkheim 1 - Poul Anderson

"I wish this could go on forever," Coya Falkayn murmured.

Her husband attempted a chuckle. "No, you don't, sweetheart. I never knew a girl who has less tolerance of monotony than you, or more talent for driving it off."

"Oh, I wish a lot of things would be eternal—but concurrently, you understand," she said. He could hear how she, too, strove for lightness. "Life should be a Cantorian aleph-one. An infinity of infinities to you, my dear mathematical hobblewit."

Instead, he thought, we move through a single space-time on our single tracks, for a hundred years or thereabouts if we have the best antisenescence regimes available to us—or less, of course, if something happens to chop a particular world line short, I don't mind my own mortality too much, Coya; but how I resent yours!"

3.5 out of 5

Mirkheim Prologue - Poul Anderson

""But you'd better grab the chance to contact her when it comes, right, Gunung Tuan?" Coya replied. "Go ahead. Davy and I will admire the view." She didn't suggest he take the call in a different room. That he could trust them as he did himself went without saying. As confidence dwindled in public institutions, those of the Solar Commonwealth and the Polesotechnic League alike, loyalties grew the more intensely personal.

Van Rijn sighed like a baby typhoon and settled himself into a chair, paunch resting majestically on lap. "I won't be long, no, I will currytail discussion," he promised. "That Lennart, she gives me indigestion, ja, she makes my ghastly juices boil. But we got this need for standing back to back, no matter how bony hers is. . . . Put her through," he told his chief secretary."

3.5 out of 5

The Trouble Twisters 5 - Poul Anderson

""What the demons!" Padrick sprang back. His sword hissed from the scabbard. A pair of Ikranankans, squatting before a doorway across the lane, gathered their ragged capes around them and vanished inside.

Adzel waved a soothing hand and finished his Latin conversation with Falkayn. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "A bit of our own magic, quite safe. A, ah, a spell against trouble, before entering a strange house."

"That could be useful, I grant." Padrick relaxed. "'Specially hereabouts."

"Why do you come if you find danger?"

"Booze, gambling, maybe a fight. Gets dull in barracks. C'mon."

"I, ah, believe I had better return to the palace."

"What? When the fun's only beginning?" Padrick tugged Adzel's arm, though he might as well have tried to haul a mountain.

"Another time, perhaps. The magic advised me—"

Padrick donned a hurt expression. "You're no friend of mine if you won't drink my liquor.""

3.5 out of 5

The Trouble Twisters 4 - Poul Anderson

""May I go, most noble?" he asked. Jadhadi said yes, and Falkayn left before he spat in most noble's eye.

"Have some dinner brought me," he instructed the servant who guided him back, "and writing materials, and a jug of booze. A large jug."

"What kind of booze?"

"Ferocious, of course. Scat!" Falkayn dropped the curtain across his door.

An arm closed around his throat. "Guk!" he said, and reached for his guns while he kicked back.

His heel struck a heavy calf-length boot. The mugger's free hand clamped on his right wrist. Falkayn was strong, but he couldn't unlimber a weapon with that drag on him, nor the one on his left hip when another brawny Ershokh clung to that arm. He struggled for air. A third human glided into view before him. He lashed out with a foot, hit a shield, and would have yelped in anguish had he been able. The shield pressed him back against the mugger. And behind it was the face of Stepha Carls. Her right hand pushed a soaked rag over his nostrils. The strangler eased off; reflex filled Falkayn's lungs; an acrid smell hit him like a blow and whirled him toward darkness."

3.5 out of 5

The Trouble Twisters 3 - Poul Anderson

"Falkayn decided he had better be courteous and meet the Imperial envoy-instructor at the air lock. He kept his blaster conspicuously on one hip.

Waiting, he could look up to the walls on the hillcrest. They were of dry-laid stone; water was too precious to use in mortar. Their battlements, and the gaunt towers at their corners, enclosed a few score woven houses. Haijakata was a mere trading center for the local farmers and for caravans passing through. A rather small garrison was maintained. The northern highlands had been cleared of those barbarian raiders who haunted most deserts, Gujgengi admitted, so Falkayn suspected the troops were quartered here mainly as a precaution against revolt. What little he had found out of Ikranankan history sounded turbulent.

Which is still another worry, he fretted. Old Nick isn't going to invest in expensive facilities unless there's a reasonably stable social order to keep the trade routes open. And the Katandaran Empire looks like the only suitable area on the whole planet. No trading post on Ikrananka, no commissions for me. What a jolly, carefree, swashbuckling life we explorers lead!"

3 out of 5

The Trouble Twisters 2 - Poul Anderson

"Nicholas van Rijn left his desk and waddled across to the transparency that made one entire wall of his office. From this height, he could overlook a sweep of slim city towers, green parkscape, Sunda Straits flashing under Earth's lordly sky. For a while he stood puffing his cigar, until, without turning around, he said:

"Ja, by damn, I think you has here the bacteria of a good project with much profit. And you is a right man to carry it away. I have watched you like a hog, ever since I hear what you did on Ivanhoe when you was a, you pardon the expression, teen-ager. Now you got your Master's certificate in the League, uh-huh, you can be good working for the Solar Spice & Liquors Company. And I need good men, poor old fat lonely me. You bring home the bacon and eggs scrambled with turmeric, I see you get rich."

"Yes, sir," Falkayn mumbled.

"You come speak of how you like to help open new places, for new stuffs to sell here and natives to buy from us what have not yet heard what the market prices are. Hokay. Only I think you got more possibilities, boy. I been thinking a lot, me, these long, long nights when I toss and turn, getting no sleep with my worries."

Falkayn refrained from telling van Rijn that everybody knew the cause of the merchant's current insomnia was blond and curvy. "What do you mean, sir?" he asked."

3.5 out of 5

The Trouble Twisters 1 - Poul Anderson

"Poker is not a very good three-handed game, so the crew of the trade pioneer ship Muddlin' Through had programmed her computer to play with them. It bought chips with IOU's. Being adjusted to an exactly average level of competence, it just about balanced winnings and losses in the course of a mission. This freed the crew to go after each other's blood.

"Two cards," said its mechanical voice. David Falkayn dealt them onto a scanner plate that he had rigged at one end of the saloon table. An arm projecting from a modified waldo box shoved the discards aside. Down in their armored tank, at the middle of the ship, think cells assessed the new odds.

"One," said Chee Lan.

"None for me, thank you," rumbled Adzel.

Falkayn gave himself three and picked up his hand. He'd improved: a pair of treys to match his kings. Adzel might well stand pat on nothing better, and Chee had probably tried to complete a flush; the first round of betting, opened by the machine, had been unenthusiastic. But Muddlehead itself, now—

The steel arm dropped a blue chip into the pot.

"Damn!" shrieked Chee. Her tail bottled out to twice its normal size, the silky-white fur stood erect over her whole small body, and she threw her cards down so hard that the tabletop ought to have rung. "Pestilence upon you! I hate your cryogenic guts!""

4 out of 5

Billy In Dinosaur City - Terry Bisson

Interested in other things.

2.5 out of 5

Feast Or Famine - Naomi Novik

Feel like some lamb. Didn't want to have to catch the really rare beef though.

3.5 out of 5

Bob the Dinosaur Goes To Disneyland - Joe R. Lansdale

The mouse is just a fucking guy in a suit, leave me alone.

3 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 12 - James H. Schmitz


What manner of klatha hooks, the captain thought carefully, were needed to nail down a giant-vatch?

Flash of heat like the lick of a sun . . . The vatch-voice howled in shock. The blackness churned in tornado convulsions—

Not one hook, or three or four, the captain thought. Something like fifty! Great rigid lines of force, clamped on every section of the blackness, tight and unyielding! Big Windy, for all the stupendous racket he was producing, had been nailed down.

The captain glanced at his three prepared mind-pictures, looked into the seething vatch-blackness. As much as we need for this! Put them together!


A swirling thundercloud of black energy shot from the vatch's mass, hung spinning beside it an instant, was gone. Gone, too, in that instant were the two small witch figures who'd stood at the captain's right.

And now Manaret, that great evil ship—

We don't want it here . . . . "

3.5 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 11 - James H. Schmitz

""What you doing?" Goth whispered.

"Using some loose vatch energy I found hanging around," the captain said negligently. "The vatch left it here to keep us pinned under that rainstorm . . . ." He added, "Don't know how I'm doing it, but it works just fine! Like the rock to try anything in particular?"

"Loop the loop," suggested Goth, staring fascinatedly into the screen.

The rock flashed up and around in a smooth, majestic three-mile loop and stood steady in midair again—steady as a rock.

"Anything else?" he offered.

"Can you do anything with it?"

"Anything I've tried so far. Ask for a tough one!"

Goth considered, glanced up at the little moon, high in the northern sky by now. "How about putting it on the other side of the moon?"

"All right," said the captain. He clicked his tongue. "Wait a minute. We'd better not try that!"

"Why not?""

3.5 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 10 - James H. Schmitz

"He did have, the captain acknowledged cautiously, a very strong interest in the Worm World. Where was it?

For a moment he received the impression of a puzzled lack of comprehension in the vatch. WHERE IS IT? the great voice rumbled then, surprised. IT IS WHERE IT IS, SMALL PERSON!

So the captain realized that instruments like stellar maps meant nothing to this klatha entity, that it had in fact no real understanding of location as the human mind understood it. But it didn't need such understanding. The universe of humanity seemed a product of vatch dream-imagination to the vatch. It roamed about here as freely as a man might roam among creations of his imagination. If it wanted to be somewhere, it simply was there."

3.5 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 09 - James H. Schmitz

""Been thinking, skipper," Vezzarn said quietly, fingers flying, testing slack, tightening knots. "He ought to be able to spot us in the screens—"

"Uh-huh. Off and on. But I doubt he'll waste time with that."

"Eh? Yes, a killer robot'd be a good tracking machine, wouldn't it?" Vezzarn said glumly. "You want to pull Yango away from the ship, then angle back to it?"

"That's the idea."

"Desperate business!" muttered Vezzarn. "But I guess it's a desperate spot. And he wants Dani—never'd have figured her for one of the Wisdoms! . . . There! Finished, sir! She'll be all right now—""

3.5 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 08 - James H. Schmitz

""Don't try to trick me, sir!" The Agandar's voice was deadly quiet.

"Trick you! Great Patham!" bellowed the captain. "Can't you see for yourself!"

The gun came full up, pointing at his chest. The Agandar's eyes shifted quickly about the screens, came back to the captain. "What am I supposed to see?" he asked, with contempt.

The captain stared at him. "You didn't hear the detectors either!" he said suddenly.

"The detectors?" Now there was an oddly puzzled look about Yango's eyes, almost as if he were struggling to remember something. "No," he said slowly then. The puzzled look faded. "I didn't hear the detectors. Because the detectors have made no sound. And there is nothing in the screens. Nothing at all! If you are pretending insanity, Captain Pausert, you are doing it too well. I have no room in my organization for a lunatic.""

3.5 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 07 - James H. Schmitz

"The captain pressed Goth's buzzer. "Why would you shoot through the door?" he asked.

"Because," Hulik said, "there's some beast loose on the ship."

"Beast?" he repeated, startled. Goth's face appeared in her screen, pop-eyed, nodded at him, disappeared.

"Beast. Creature. Thing! Monster!" Hulik seemed to be speaking through hard clenched teeth. "I saw it. just now. In a passage off the lounge. Be careful on your way here! It's large, probably dangerous."

"I'll be there at once!" the captain promised.

"Bring your gun," Hulik told him, still in the flat, dead tone of choked-down hysteria. "Several, if you have them . . . ." She switched off as Goth came trotting out of her cabin, buttoning up her jacket. "Vatch?" the captain asked hurriedly.

Goth shook her head. "Not a whiff of one around! She couldn't see a vatch anyway, if there was one around." She looked puzzled and interested.

"Could something else have got on the ship—out of space? Something material?"

"Don't know," Goth said hesitantly. "Course you hear stories about the Chaladoor like that.""

3.5 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 06 - James H. Schmitz

"As soon as he reached his cabin and locked the door, Vezzarn brought his device back out of the closet. He placed it on the small cabin table, activated it, checked the door again, set the device in motion and looked down through an eyepiece at a magnified view of the miniature three-dimensional pattern the instrument had produced within itself.

It was a moving pattern, and it gave off faintly audible sounds. Vezzarn stared and listened, first with surprise, then in blank puzzlement, at last with growing consternation. The reproduced contrivance in there buzzed, clicked, hummed, twinkled, spun. It sent small impulses of assorted energy types shooting about through itself. It remained spectacularly, if erratically, busy. And within five minutes Vezzarn became completely convinced that it did, and could do, absolutely nothing that would serve any practical purpose.

Whatever it might be, it wasn't a spacedrive. Even the most unconventional of drives couldn't possibly resemble anything like that!"

3.5 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 05 - James H. Schmitz

""That is what is bothering me," Sedmon agreed. "If Captain Pausert, alias Captain Aron, is in fact a witch, I want no trouble with him or his ship."

"And if he isn't?"

"The girl almost certainly is of the witches," the Daal said. "But I might be inclined to take a chance with her. Even that I would not like too well, since Karres has ways of finding out about occurrences that are of interest to it."

"May I point out," said Hulik, "that the entire world of Karres was reliably reported to have disappeared about the time this Captain Pausert was last observed in the Nikkeldepain area? The official opinion in the Imperium is that the planet was accidentally destroyed when the witches tested some superweapon of their devising, against the impending arrival of a punitive Imperial Fleet."

The Daal scratched his neck again.

"I have heard of that," he said. "And, in fact, I have received a report from one of my own men in the meanwhile, to the effect that Karres does seem to be gone from the Iverdahl System. It is possible that it is destroyed. But I don't believe it.""

3.5 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 04 - James H. Schmitz

"Where was the Worm World, dread Manaret? None knew. Some thought it was concealed near the heart of the Chaladoor, in the Sea of Light. Some believed it lay so far to Galactic East that no exploring ship had ever come on it—or if one had, it had been destroyed too swiftly to send back word of its awesome find. Some argued it might be anywhere—a burning world, or a glittering ice sphere sheathed in mile-thick layers of solidified poisonous gas. Any of those guesses could be true, because almost all that was known of Manaret was of its tunneled, splendidly ornamented interior.

Vezzarn inclined to the theory it was to be found, if one cared to search for it, at some vast distance among the star swarms to Far Galactic East. Year after year, decade after decade, as long as civilized memory went back, the glowing plague of Worm Weather had seemed to come drifting farther westward to harass the worlds of humanity."

3.5 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 03 - James H. Schmitz

"She'd been doing some looking around, too, and wanted to know why the Venture was running on half power. The captain explained. "If we happen to get into a jam," he concluded, "would you be able to use the Sheewash Drive at present?"

"Short hops," the witch nodded reassuringly. "No real runs for a while, though!"

"Short hops should be good enough." He reflected. "I read that item in the Regulations. They right about the klatha part?"

"Pretty much," Goth acknowledged, a trifle warily.

"Well . . ." He'd related his experiences with the lamp then, and she'd listened with obvious interest but no indications of surprise.

"What do you mean, it wasn't me—exactly?" he said. "I was wondering for a while, but I'm dead sure now I don't have klatha ability."

Goth wrinkled her nose, hesitant, said suddenly, "You got it, captain. Told you you'd be a witch, too. You got a lot of it! That was part of the trouble."

"Trouble?" The captain leaned back in his chair. "Mind explaining?"

Goth reflected worriedly again. "I got to be careful now," she told him. "The way klatha, is, people oughtn't to know much more about it than they can work with. Or it's likely never going to work right for them. That's one reason we got rules. You see?"

He frowned. "Not quite.""

3.5 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 02 - James H. Schmitz

""What were you thinking about?" Goth inquired.

"I was thinking," said the captain, "that as soon as we're sure you're going to be all right, I'm taking you straight back to Karres."

"I'll be all right now," Goth said. "Except, likely, for a stomach-ache. But you can't take me back to Karres."

"Who will stop me, may I ask?" the captain asked.

"Karres is gone," Goth said.

"Gone?" the captain repeated blankly, with a sensation of not quite definable horror bubbling up in him.

"Not blown up or anything," Goth reassured him. "They just moved it. The Imperials got their hair up about us again. This time they were sending a fleet with the big bombs and stuff, so everybody was called home. And right after you'd left . . . we'd left, I mean . . . they moved it."


"Great Patham!" Goth shrugged. "How'd I know? There's lots of places!""

3.5 out of 5

The Witches Of Karres 01 - James H. Schmitz

"The captain stood motionless. Just one glimpse had been given him of what seemed to be a bundle of twisted black wires arranged loosely like the frame of a truncated cone on—or was it just above?—a table in the center of the cabin. Above the wires, where the tip of the cone should have been, burned a round, swirling orange fire. About it, their faces reflecting its glow, stood the three witches.

Then the fire vanished; the wires collapsed. There was only ordinary light in the room. They were looking up at him variously—Maleen with smiling regret, the Leewit in frank annoyance, Goth with no expression at all.

"What out of Great Patham's Seventh Hell was that?" inquired the captain, his hair bristling slowly.

The Leewit looked at Goth; Goth looked at Maleen. Maleen said doubtfully, "We can just tell you its name . . . ."

"That was the Sheewash Drive," said Goth.

"The what drive?" asked the captain.

"Sheewash," repeated Maleen.

"The one you have to do it with yourself," the Leewit added helpfully.

"Shut up," said Maleen."

3.5 out of 5

Diamonds Are Forever - Eric Flynt and Ryk Spoor

Some Nomes there was.

3 out of 5

Has Anyone Here Seen Kelly? - Bryce Walton

Rock life possible.

3 out of 5

Superluminal 03 - Vonda N. McIntyre

"Laenea went to him, put her arms around him, turned him toward her. The fine lines around his blue eyes were deeper, etched by distress and failure. She touched his cheek. Embracing her, he bent to rest his forehead on her shoulder. “They said I’d never even make it through the training. I’m bound to our own four dimensions. I’m too dependent… on night, day, time… My circadian rhythms are too strong. They said…” His muffled words became more and more unsure, balanced on a shaky edge. Laenea stroked his hair, the back of his neck, over and over. That was the only thing left to do. There was nothing at all left to say. “If I survived the operation… I’d die in transit.”"

3 out of 5

Sea-Kings Of Mars 5 - Leigh Brackett

"Nay," said Boghaz hoarsely. "I am loyal. No one can accuse me of treason. I wish only to serve—" He stopped short, apparently realizing that his own tongue had trapped him neatly.

Scyld brought the flat of the blade down in a tremendous thwack across Boghaz' enormous buttocks.

"Go then and serve!" he shouted.

Boghaz leaped forward, howling. The press-gang grabbed him. In a few seconds they had shackled him and Carse securely together.

Scyld complacently thrust the sword of Rhiannon into his own sheath after tossing his own blade to a soldier to carry. He led the way swaggeringly out of the hut.

Once again, Carse made a pilgrimage through the streets of Jekkara but this time by night and in chains, stripped of his jewels and his sword.

It was to the palace quays they went, and the cold shivering thrill of unreality came again upon Carse as he looked at the high towers ablaze with light and the soft white fires of the sea that glowed far out in the darkness.

The whole palace quarter swarmed with slaves, with men-at-arms in the sable mail of Sark, with courtiers and women and jongleurs. Music and the sounds of revelry came from the palace itself as they passed beneath it.

Boghaz spoke to Carse in a rapid undertone. "The blockheads didn't recognize that sword. Keep quiet about your secret—or they'd take us both to Caer Dhu for questioning and you know what that means!" He shuddered over all his great body."

4.5 out of 5

Sea-Kings Of Mars 4 - Leigh Brackett

""I struck too hard I'm afraid. But then, in the dark with an armed man, one has to be careful. Do you feel like talking now?"

Carse looked up at him and old habit made him control the rage that shook him. "About what?" he said.

Boghaz said, "I am a frank and truthful man. When I saved you from the mob out there my only idea was to rob you."

Carse saw that his jeweled belt and collar had been transferred to Boghaz, who wore them both around his neck. The Valkisian now raised a plump hand and fingered them lovingly.

"Then," he continued, "I got a closer look—at that." He nodded toward the jeweled sword that leaned against the stool, shimmering in the lamplight. "Now, many men would examine it and see only a handsome sword. But I, Boghaz, am a man of education. I recognized the symbols on that blade."

He leaned forward. "Where did you get it?"

A warning instinct made Carse lie readily. "I bought it from a trader."

Boghaz shook his head. "No you didn't. There are spots of corrosion on the blade, scales of dust in the carvings. The hilt has not been polished. No trader would sell it in that condition.

"No, my friend, that sword has lain a long time in the dark, in the tomb of him who owned it—the tomb of Rhiannon."

Carse lay without moving, looking at Boghaz. He did not like what he saw.

The Valkisian had a kind and merry face. He would be excellent company over a bottle of wine. He would love a man like a brother and regret exceedingly the necessity of cutting out his heart."

4.5 out of 5

Sea-Kings Of Mars 3 - Leigh Brackett

"He had come out into an open space by the docks. Now, in the twilight, the sea flamed with cold white fire. Masts of the moored ships stood black against it. Phobos was rising, and in the mingled light Carse saw that there were creatures climbing into the rigging of the ships and that they were furred and chained and not wholly human.

And he saw on the wharfside two slender white-skinned men with wings. They wore the loin-cloth of the slave and their wings were broken.

The square was filled with people. More of them poured in from the narrow alley-mouths, drawn by the shout of Spy! It echoed from the buildings and the name of "Khondor" hammered at him.

From the wharfside, from the winged slaves and the chained creatures of the ships, a fervent cry reached him.

"Hail, Khondor! Fight, man!"

Women screamed like harpies. Another stone whistled past his ear. The mob surged and jostled but those nearest Carse held back, wary of the great jeweled sword with its shining blade.

Carse shouted. He swung the sword in a humming arc around him and the Jekkarans, who had shorter blades, melted back.

Again from the wharfside he heard, "Hail, Khondor! Down with the Serpent, down with Sark! Fight, Khond!""

4 out of 5

Sea-Kings Of Mars 1 - Leigh Brackett

"Matt Carse knew he was being followed almost as soon as he left Madam Kan's. The laughter of the little dark women was still in his ears and the fumes of thil lay like a hot sweet haze across his vision—but they did not obscure from him the whisper of sandaled feet close behind him in the chill Martian night.

Carse quietly loosened his proton-gun in its holster but he did not attempt to lose his pursuer. He did not slow nor quicken his pace as he went through Jekkara.

"The Old Town," he thought. "That will be the best place. Too many people about here."

Jekkara was not sleeping despite the lateness of the hour. The Low Canal towns never sleep, for they lie outside the law and time means nothing to them. In Jekkara and Valkis and Barrakesh night is only a darker day.

Carse walked beside the still black waters in their ancient channel, cut in the dead sea-bottom. He watched the dry wind shake the torches that never went out and listened to the broken music of the harps that were never stilled. Lean lithe men and women passed him in the shadowy streets, silent as cats except for the chime and whisper of the tiny bells the women wear, a sound as delicate as rain, distillate of all the sweet wickedness of the world.

They paid no attention to Carse, though despite his Martian dress he was obviously an Earthman and though an Earthman's life is usually less than the light of a snuffed candle along the Low Canals. Carse was one of them. The men of Jekkara and Valkis and Barrakesh, are the aristocracy of thieves and they admire skill and respect knowledge and know a gentleman when they meet one."

5 out of 5

Sea-Kings Of Mars 2 - Leigh Brackett

"Carse's numbed gaze swept along the great coast of the distant shoreline. And down on that far sunlit coast he saw the glitter of a white city and knew that it was Jekkara.

Jekkara, bright and strong between the verdant hills and the mighty ocean, that ocean that had not been seen upon Mars for nearly a million years.

Matthew Carse knew then that it was no mirage. He sat and hid his face in his hands. His body was shaken by deep tremors and his nails bit into his own flesh until blood trickled down his cheeks.

He knew now what had happened to him in that vortex of darkness, and it seemed to him that a cold voice repeated a certain warning inscription in tones of distant thunder.

"The Quiru are lords of space and time—of time—OF TIME!"

Carse, staring out over the green hills and the milky ocean, made a terrible effort to grapple with the incredible.

"I have come into the past of Mars. All my life I have studied and dreamed of that past. Now I am in it. I, Matthew Carse, archaeologist, renegate, looter of tombs.

"The Quiru for their own reasons built a way and I came through it. Time is to us the unknown dimension but the Quiru knew it!"

Carse had studied science. You had to know the elements of a half-dozen sciences to be a planetary archaeologist. He frantically ransacked memory now for an explanation.

Had his first guess about that bubble of darkness been right? Was it really a hole in the continuum of the universe? If that were so he could dimly understand what had happened to him.

For the space-time continuum of the universe was finite, limited. Einstein and Riemann had proved that long ago. And he had fallen clear out of that continuum and then back into it again—but into a different timeframe from his own."

4.5 out of 5

Shadow Over Mars 4 - Leigh Brackett

"WIND moved sighing through the broken walls, and the dusk came down to join it. Far out across the Western wastes Phobos rode the last pale glow of the sun edging the rim of Mars. Ruh lay silent, barred and shuttered, but not asleep.

With night, shadows crept through the streets. Some of them came drifting in through secret portals in the city wall and then sought the heights of the King City, where they vanished. Upon entering the flaring torchlight in the throne-room, however, they became men.

Fighting men. Of different ages, sizes, coloring, in the harness of different city-states, but all alike in one thing—the look they bore. The look of wolves in a cage.

They sat around a table of blood-red wood worn hollow by the arms of centuries of war-chiefs. Haral the boy king, leaned forward like a bent blade from his high seat, and the eyes of Beudach, who stood always at his right hand, were as steel in the fire.

Only one shadow remained in the Quarters. It was small and hunched and swift-moving, and its eyes burned emerald in the Phobos-light. It went from door to door, whispering, asking, and the name it said was "Rick."

High up against the stars, in the ruined Tower of Destiny, Parras, the Seer, bent his fresh young face above his looking bowl. His mind reached out across the sea-bottoms, the sand deserts, the age-worn hills. It touched other minds, asking, and the name it said was "Rick."

To the green-eyed shadow and the mind of the seer came an unvarying answer.

"Not yet.""

4 out of 5

Shadow Over Mars 3 - Leigh Brackett

""You're awfully smart," she murmured. "Because I can't read it myself."

Storm laughed again, softly. He bent his towering height and kissed her, taking his time.

In the middle of it, with her mouth still pressing his, she brought her knee up, hard with deadly accuracy.

Rick shouted. Jaffa Storm doubled up, his face twisted with stunned agony. The girl kicked him again, on the knee, and broke free.

"I've trained my mind, too," she yelled and ran.

The Venusians burst into a sudden raucous howl of laughter at Storm, who was huddled over on his knees, retching. The manacled men joined in.

Fallon made a grab for the girl. He missed, but some of the guards ran out and her way back to the shaft was barred. From behind the ore car Rick bellowed. "The light switch!"

Her gaze flicked from him to the switch near the tunnel mouth, all in the instant between one step and the next. The switch was on the opposite wall, away from the guards. She moved.

"Don't fire!" Fallon yelled. "I want her alive." He began to run, with half a dozen big Middle-swampers loping past him. The girl was going like a dark-green comet."

4 out of 5

Shadow Over Mars 2 - Leigh Brackett

""His shadow over Mars," he said slowly.

"My grandmother saw it, Lord," insisted the dwarf. "She was a great seeress."

"The rule of Mars to an Earthman," mused Haral. "The outland yoke hammered on our necks to stay."

The woman cried out, but the wolf-faced man was before her, bending over the throne.

"Now, Lord! Now is the time to strike, if there's any blood or pride left in the men of Mars!"

The boy rose, slowly. The torchlight crimsoned his white skin.


The wolf-faced man dropped to one knee. "Send Parras to me."

Beudach went away, smiling.

"Do you know where this Earthman is?" Haral asked Llaw.

"No, Lord. But I will find him." He licked his lips. "There is a blood debt."

"It shall be paid.""

4 out of 5

Shadow Over Mars 1 - Leigh Brackett

"Rick saw him clearly—a black anthropoid from the sea-bottom pits, one of the queer inhabitants of an evolutionary blind alley you were always running into on Mars. Some said they had once been men, and degenerated in their isolated barren villages. Others said they were neither man nor ape, just something that got off on a road that went nowhere. Rick didn't care much. All that interested him was that the black apes were trained now like hounds to course men for the press-gangs of the Terran Exploitations Company.

Rick had no wish to slave in the Company mines until he died. He hit the black boy hard in the midriff and shut him up for good. After that, there was silence.

Rick had never heard silence like that before except on the dead worlds. The Company press-gang was beating the whole Quarter, from the stews on the Street of Nine Thousand Joys north into the angle of the city wall, but the noise they made doing it didn't seem to touch the silence of Ruh. It was like the alloy skin of a spaceship, that you couldn't touch with fire or acid or steel."

Enchantress Of Venus 6 - Leigh Brackett

"He looked up at Zareth again. Her pale hair floated with the slow breathing of the sea, a milky cloud against the spark-shot crimson. He saw now that her face was drawn and shadowed, and there a terrible hopelessness in her eyes. She had been alive when he first saw her—frightened, not too bright, but full of emotion and a certain dogged courage. Now the spark was gone, crushed out.

She wore a collar around her white neck, a ring of dark metal with the ends fused together for all time.

"Where are we?" he asked.

And she answered, her voice carrying deep and hollow in the dense substance of the sea, "We are in the place of the Lost Ones."

Stark looked beyond her, as far as he could see, since he was unable to turn his head. And wonder came to him.

Black walls, black vault above him, a vast hall filled with the wash of the sea that slipped in streaks of whispering flame through the high embrasures. A hall that was twin to the vault of shadows where he had met the Lhari.

"There is a city," said Zareth dully. "You will see it soon. You will see nothing else until you die."

4 out of 5

Enchantress Of Venus 5 - Leigh Brackett

""The voice said, "Come here, into the light."

Stark obeyed the voice. As he approached the lamps, the aspect of the Lhari changed and steadied. Their beauty remained, but it was not the same. They had looked like angels. Now that he could see them clearly, Stark thought that they might have been the children of Lucifer himself.

There were six of them, counting the boy. Two men, about the same age as Stark, with some complicated gambling game forgotten between them. A woman, beautiful, gowned in white silk, sitting with her hands in her lap, doing nothing. A woman, younger, not so beautiful perhaps, but with a look of stormy and bitter vitality. She wore a short tunic of crimson, and a stout leather glove on her left hand, where perched a flying thing of prey with its fierce eyes hooded.

The boy stood beside the two men, his head poised arrogantly. From time to time he cuffed the little dragon, and it snapped at him with its impotent jaws. He was proud of himself for doing that. Stark wondered how he would behave with the beast when it had grown its fangs.

Opposite him, crouched on a heap of cushions, was a third man. He was deformed, with an ungainly body and long spidery arms, and in his lap a sharp knife lay on a block of wood, half formed into the shape of an obese creature half woman, half pure evil. Stark saw with a flash of surprise that the face of the deformed young man, of all the faces there, was truly human, truly beautiful. His eyes were old in his boyish face, wise, and very sad in their wisdom. He smiled upon the stranger, and his smile was more compassionate than tears.""

4 out of 5

Enchantress Of Venus 4 - Leigh Brackett

Stark looked after her for a moment, strangely touched. Then he stepped out into the rain again, heading upward along the steep path that led to the castle of the Lords of Shuruun.

The mist was blinding. Stark had to feel his way, and as he climbed higher, above the level of the town, he was lost in the sullen redness. A hot wind blew, and each flare of lighting turned the crimson fog to a hellish purple. The night was full of a vast hissing where the rain poured into the gulf. He stopped once to hide his gun in a cleft between the rocks.

At length he stumbled against a carven pillar of black stone and found the gate that hung from it, a massive thing sheathed in metal. It was barred, and the pounding of his fists upon it made little sound.

Then he saw the gong, a huge disc of beaten gold beside the gate. Stark picked up the hammer that lay there, and set the deep voice of the gong rolling out between the thunderbolts.

A barred slit opened and a man's eyes looked out at him. Stark dropped the hammer.

"Open up!" he shouted. "I would speak with the Lhari!"

From within he heard an echo of laughter. Scraps of voices came to him on the wind, and then more laughter, and then, slowly, the great valves of the gate creaked open, wide enough only to admit him.

4 out of 5

Enchantress Of Venus 3 - Leigh Brackett

"Stark said, "Who are the Lhari?"

"Would you like to meet them?" Larrabee seemed to find something very amusing in that thought. "Just go on up to the castle. They live there. They're the Lords of Shuruun, and they're always glad to meet strangers."

He leaned forward suddenly. "Who are you anyway? What's your name, and why the devil did you come here?"

"My name is Stark. And I came here for the same reason you did."

"Stark," repeated Larrabee slowly, his eyes intent. "That rings a faint bell. Seems to me I saw a Wanted flash once, some idiot that had led a native revolt somewhere in the Jovian Colonies—a big cold-eyed brute they referred to colorfully as the wild man from Mercury."

He nodded, pleased with himself. "Wild man, eh? Well, Shuruun will tame you down!""

4 out of 5

Enchantress Of Venus 2 - Leigh Brackett

"Stark did not pay much attention at first, except to keep his balance automatically. He was still dazed from the blow, and he was raging with anger and pain.

The primitive in him, whose name was not Stark but N'Chaka, and who had fought and starved and hunted in the blazing valleys of Mercury's Twilight Belt, learning lessons he never forgot, wished to return and slay Malthor and his men. He regretted that he had not torn out their throats, for now his trail would never be safe from them.

But the man Stark, who had learned some more bitter lessons in the name of civilization, knew the unwisdom of that. He snarled over his aching head, and cursed the Venusians in the harsh, crude dialect that was his mother tongue, but he did not turn back. There would be time enough for Malthor.

It struck him that the gulf was very deep.

Fighting down his rage, he began to swim in the direction of the shore. There was no sign of pursuit, and he judged that Malthor had decided to let him go. He puzzled over the reason for the attack. It could hardly be robbery, since he carried nothing but the clothes he stood in, and very little money.

No. There was some deeper reason. A reason connected with Malthor's insistence that he lodge with him. Stark smiled. It was not a pleasant smile. He was thinking of Shuruun, and the things men said about it, around the shores of the Red Sea.

Then his face hardened. The dim coiling fires through which he swam brought him memories of other times he had gone adventuring in the depths of the Red Sea.

He had not been alone then. Helvi had gone with him—the tall son of a barbarian kinglet up-coast by Yarell. They had hunted strange beasts through the crystal forests of the sea-bottom and bathed in the welling flames that pulse from the very heart of Venus to feed the ocean. They had been brothers.

Now Helvi was gone, into Shuruun. He had never returned."

4 out of 5

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Enchantress Of Venus 1 - Leigh Brackett

"The ship moved slowly across the Red Sea, through the shrouding veils of mist, her sail barely filled by the languid thrust of the wind. Her hull, of a thin light metal, floated without sound, the surface of the strange ocean parting before her prow in silent rippling streamers of flame.

Night deepened toward the ship, a river of indigo flowing out of the west. The man known as Stark stood alone by the after rail and watched its coming. He was full of impatience and a gathering sense of danger, so that it seemed to him that even the hot wind smelled of it.

The steersman lay drowsily over his sweep. He was a big man, with skin and hair the color of milk. He did not speak, but Stark felt that now and again the man's eyes turned toward him, pale and calculating under half-closed lids, with a secret avarice.

The captain and the two other members of the little coasting vessel's crew were forward, at their evening meal. Once or twice Stark heard a burst of laughter, half-whispered and furtive. It was as though all four shared in some private joke, from which he was rigidly excluded.

The heat was oppressive. Sweat gathered on Stark's dark face. His shirt stuck to his back. The air was heavy with moisture, tainted with the muddy fecundity of the land that brooded westward behind the eternal fog.

There was something ominous about the sea itself. Even on its own world, the Red Sea is hardly more than legend. It lies behind the Mountains of White Cloud, the great barrier wall that hides away half a planet. Few men have gone beyond that barrier, into the vast mystery of Inner Venus. Fewer still have come back."

4 out of 5

Alpha Centauri Or Die 4 - Leigh Brackett

"The word went out from Mars. There are men in space again.

Secretly and stealthily that word went, on the tight Government beams. But it was heard and repeated. Inward from Mars it traveled, across Earth and Venus and into the sun-bitten, frost-wracked valleys of Mercury. Outward from Mars it traveled, to the lunar colonies of Jupiter and Saturn, to the nighted mining camps of the worlds beyond. There are men in space again!

Human mind and muscle had challenged the dark ships, and the barriers that had been so strong were broken, the frontiers that had been closed were open, and a thing had been done so splendid and insane and terrifying that it struck the mass consciousness with the impact of a bomb. There was no longer any point in feigning secrecy. The news services broadcast the story, training expressive cameras on the comfortable houses left vacant and forlorn, the abandoned toys, the supper dishes untouched on dusty tables."

4 out of 5

Alpha Centauri Or Die 3 - Leigh Brackett

"Shari had wakened. She straightened up and looked at Kirby. "Shall we be able to make it?"

"I don't know. Depends on how long it takes the R-3's to locate us. They'll have to hunt, and there's a lot of desert around Kahora. On the other hand, they're fast. A hell of a lot faster than we are."

He looked around apprehensively, but there was no sign of anything yet in the sky, nor did his radarscope show any warning pip. Shari put her hand over on top of his.

"I think perhaps luck will be with us," she said. "You're afraid now, but it is mostly for me. Don't be. Whatever happens, it could not have been any other way."

He took her hand and squeezed it savagely. "I'll see to it nothing does happen. Damn it, this desert always did seem to go on forever. Won't those blasted mountains ever show?"

It seemed to Kirby that the flier barely moved. His heart thumped painfully, and every nerve-end was awake and leaping. He hunched over the controls, trying to urge the small craft forward as one does a horse, with his own body. And then Shari said a surprising thing. She said, "For the first time since I have known, you are happy."

"Happy!" he said. He laughed."

3.5 out of 5

Alpha Centauri Or Die 2 - Leigh Brackett

"She almost laughed at him. "I never used it—well, hardly ever, really—except to tell me when you were coming. A Martian man could guard his mind, but not you, so it would not have been fair. And I never told you of it because it might have made you uncomfortable."

Kirby shook his head in awe. "A telepath. I'll be damned. I knew Martians were supposed to have some unusual abilities, but I never dreamed—"

"Not all of us, Kirby, and the effort is too great to waste it on trivialities. Already my head aches." She put the tall glass in his hand and then she kissed him briefly, fiercely, and whispered, "Be careful! And now I'll let them in."

The knocking on the door had just begun. Shari opened it, and three men came in. Two of them were government agents assigned to Port Security, and Kirby reckoned that there must be two more outside, searching his own flier. The third man was his brother-in-law, Harry March. He was also Divisional Superintendent and Kirby's superior.

Kirby sat up. "I won't say welcome, Harry, because you're not." He looked at the government men, "What is this?""

3.5 out of 5

Alpha Centauri Or Die 1 - Leigh Brackett

"There were no more men in space. The dark ships strode the ways between the worlds, lightless, silent, needing no human mind to guide them. The R-ships, carrying the freight and the passengers, keeping order, keeping the law, taking the Pax Terrae to the limits of the Solar System and guarding there the boundary which was not now ever to be crossed.

No more men in space. No strong hands bridling the rockets, no eyes looking outward to the stars. But still upon the wide-flung worlds of Sol were old men who remembered, and young men who could dream.

The shadow of the sandstone pillar lay black upon the ground. Kirby slipped into it and stood still, looking back the way he had just come. Wilson stopped too, in the shadow, asking nervously, "Nobody's following us, are they?"

Kirby shook his head. "I just wanted another look at the place. I don't know why, I've seen it often enough."

He had not been running. Neither he nor Wilson had been doing anything outwardly unusual, and yet Kirby was soaked with sweat and his heart was pounding. He could hear Wilson's heavy breathing, and he knew it was the same with him.

"I'm scared," said Wilson. "Why should I be scared now?" He was a young man, long and narrow, with very strong, very sensitive hands.

"The last time," Kirby said. "We only need a few more hours now, after all these years."

He let his voice trail off, as though he had been going to say more and decided not to, and Wilson muttered, "You're worried about March."

"He's been taking too much interest in my department lately. I wish I knew—"

"Yeah, Kirby, let's go."

4 out of 5

The Reavers Of Skaith 7 - Leigh Brackett

"The woman answered, in the sweet identical tone, without words. Then she studied the men, with a sword-thrust glance, and said, "You are not sons of Mother Skaith."

Stark said, "No."

She nodded. "This was the strangeness my messengers sensed." She spoke to the boy, and in her manner were both love and deference. "What is your thought, my Cethlin?"

He smiled gently and said, "They are not for us, Mother. Another has set her seal upon them."

"Well, then," said the woman, turning again to Stark and Ashton, "be welcome, for a time." She beckoned to them with the stateliness of a bending tree. "I am Norverann. This is my son Cethlin, my last and youngest, who is called the Bridegroom."

"The Bridegroom?"

"Here we worship the Trinity—my lady Cold and her lord Darkness, and their daughter Hunger, who come to rule us. My son will go to the Daughter in his eighteenth year, if she does not claim him sooner."

"She will, Mother," said the calm-eyed boy. "The day is close at hand.""

4.5 out of 5

The Reavers Of Skaith 6 - Leigh Brackett

"Farther away from the city, arrogantly isolated, the dark-furred Fallarin sat muttering among themselves, striking little angry puffs of wind from out their wings. The Tarf, their agile servants in stripes of green and gold, with four powerful ropey arms apiece, did the work of breaking camp.

By morning, they would all be gone.

Beyond them all, the valley lay empty and quiet. But at its upper end, where the mountains closed in and rocky walls narrowed steeply together, was the grotto from which generations of Gerriths, wise women of Irnan, had watched over the welfare of their city.

The grotto had been robbed of all its furnishings, so that it was more than ever like a tomb. Gerrith, the last of her name, had renounced her status as wise woman, saying that her tradition had ended with the destruction of the Robe and Crown at the hands of the Wandsman Mordach. Yet there were beasts tethered below the entrance, and a dim reflection of light shone from it. On the ledge by this entrance a Tarf stood sentinel, leaning on his four-handed sword and blinking horny eyelids with the timeless patience of his kind. His name was Klatlekt."

4 out of 5

The Reavers Of Skaith 5 - Leigh Brackett

"Ashton said, "Eric, when I was lying there pretending not to exist, with the grass and flowers close against me, I got the feeling that—"

"So did I. There's some kind of sentience there. Maybe the sort of thing that tells a Venus flytrap when to snap shut."

"Do you suppose they're carrying a message? And if so, to whom?"

The heath stretched away on all sides, tilting toward the horizon, rough and rumpled, dotted with the twisted thickets and occasional blasted trees. Stark lifted his head and quartered the wind, scenting strangeness, scenting nothing welcoming to man. The faint and somehow treacherous sweetness of the flowers—endless miles of them—caught in his throat. There was nothing in all that emptiness to catch the eye, and yet he sensed presences, things awake and knowing. Whether these were human, animal, or quite other, he could not tell.

He did not like it. "I'll be glad to leave this upland," he said, "and by the quickest way.""

4 out of 5

The Reavers Of Skaith 4 - Leigh Brackett

"Stark was already moving, so swiftly that the eye could scarcely follow him. Instead of going for the weapons, he flung himself directly at the man who stood nearest him. The man, watching Stark, had perforce been staring into the light, which was now on the ground, still shining though partly hidden by the case. During the split second in which his vision was attempting to deal with the sudden change, Stark slammed into him low across the body. The man went over, loosing off his stunner at the sky. Stark rushed off, a large animal running low in erratic leaps and swerves, into the coarse grass with the flower-eyes. An ordinary man, even a skillful one, could hardly have found cover there. But this was N'Chaka, who had found cover on naked rock when the four-pawed death came snuffling after him. Like the four-pawed death, he moved as he had done so many times before when he played at the game of survival, aping the pursuer-quarry, sliding flat and hugging the ground. The glare behind him wavered and flashed as the lamp was set up again, worse for the marksmen than no light at all. They were firing wild, in any case, having lost sight of him almost at once; they had placed too much confidence in their numbers and in the futility of any attempt to escape, basing their estimate on human reflexes as they knew them. Stark had gambled his reflexes against theirs, and for the moment he had won. He was quickly out of range of the stunners."

4 out of 5

The Reavers Of Skaith 3 - Leigh Brackett

"He had walked out alone to the starship. The Northhounds were of no use to him now. His comrades were of no use. He left them behind, all those who had come south with him to help raise the siege of Irnan: the boy Tuchvar, with the hounds; the company of Hooded Men from the northern deserts; the dark-winged, dark-furred Fallarin, brothers to the wind, who had stripped themselves of their golden torques and girdles to pay the ransom for their fellows. He left Irnan behind. It was like walking away from the corpse of someone who has been for a time vitally important in one's life, and who has suddenly died. He also left behind the wise woman Gerrith, and that was like leaving a part of himself. They had had so little time to talk. "You must not be here when the Wandsmen come," he told her, because that thought was most urgent in his mind. "They'll do to you as they did to your mother."

Halk, the tall swordsman who had fought beside them both across half of Skaith, said cruelly, "We can all find safety somewhere, Dark Man, so don't concern yourself with us. Worry about yourself. You know your people better than I do, but I think Penkawr-Che means you no good."

Gerrith touched him, once, with the tips of her fingers. "I'm sorry, Stark. I did not foresee. If I had only been able to give you warning—"

"It would have made no difference," Stark said. "He has Ashton."

And they had parted, without even a moment alone to say goodbye."

4.5 out of 5

The Reavers Of Skaith 2 - Leigh Brackett

"That is why you could never be a Lord Protector," said Ferdias. "You have not the long view." He shrugged. "Not many will be slaughtered, after all. And in any case, how could we hope to stand against the weapons of these foreigners?"

Llandric said cruelly, "You are an old man, Ferdias, and your long view is all of the past. When the starving hordes close in on you from north and south, and there is no escape for anyone, remember who it was that barred the roads of space." The guards took him out. Ferdias spoke to the thirteenth Wandsman. "A day of triumph, Gelmar, after long adversity. I wished you to share it."

3.5 out of 5

The Reavers Of Skaith 1 - Leigh Brackett

"There was pain again, the hollow jab of a needle.

N'Chaka snarled, and fought the straps."

4 out of 5

The Hounds Of Skaith 7 - Leigh Brackett

"Wandsmen, the hounds hanging close, shoulders jostling. The pens offered no security but they were shelter of a sort, better than the open. They flung themselves under the nearest roof, against the nearest wall.

The wave hit.

Black, roar, dust, cracking, shaking, world falling. The wind hated them for cheating it. The air beneath the roof was thick with sand, and the sand had faces in it, gargoyle faces, film-eyed and browless, with great snapping teeth.


The hounds killed.

Part of the roof ripped away. Runners were there, kicking, tearing. Their strength was appalling. The hounds killed, but some of the Runners plummeted down through the holes, onto the prey beneath. The Yur had placed the Wandsmen in a corner and formed a human wall across their front. They had only their hands to fight with. Runner jaws clamped on the living flesh and did not let go.

Stark killed with a furious loathing, slashing at anything that moved in the blind dust. There was a foul stink. The screaming of the Runners in rage and hunger and deadly fear came thin and terrible through the storm.

The hounds killed until they were tired.

Too many, N'Chaka. Strong.

Kill, kill, or Wandsmen die!

He did not care if the Wandsmen died. He only wanted to live himself.

The hounds killed."

4.5 out of 5

The Hounds Of Skaith 6 - Leigh Brackett

"Lead us to humans, he said to Gerd, knowing that Gelmar would be following the same mental beacon. They could forget about the markers.

They plunged on, across whaleback dunes that blurred and shifted shape beneath them. The litter swayed and jolted. Stark was sorry for Halk, but there was no help for it. The desert cried out in torment, a great hissing gritty wail rose and circled and fell away again to a deep moaning.

Then, abruptly, the wind dropped. The lower air cleared in the sudden stillness. Old Sun shone raggedly above. From the top of a ridge they saw the wayhouse half a mile or so ahead, a thick low structure of stone with a series of drift-walls about it to keep the desert out.

Ashton pointed away and said, "God Almighty."

A tsunami, a tidal wave of sand, rushed toward them out of the northeast. It filled the whole horizon. Its crest of dusty foam curled halfway up the sky. Below, it was a brightish ocher shading down through dirty reds and browns to a boiling darkness at the bottom that was almost black.

Stark saw a scudding of many shapes that ran fleetly before the edges of that blackness.

For the second time Gerd said, Things come.

Gelmar's party appeared on the back trail, clear in the placid air. They paused and looked northeastward, then came on again at a run.

Stark lashed the beasts forward. The wave had a voice, a roaring almost too deep for the human ear to register. The heart felt it, and the marrow of the bones, and the spasming gut. Even the animals forgot their weariness.

All at once Gerd spoke urgently in Stark's mind. Wandsman says come, N'Chaka. Come now or things kill.

He turned with the pack and raced away down the back trail, answering Gelmar's call."

4.5 out of 5

The Hounds Of Skaith 5 - Leigh Brackett

"The Northhounds were incapable of understanding the complexities of their betrayal. According to pack law, they had followed a new leader, one who had established beyond doubt his right to lead. They had followed him to the Citadel; and the servants, the Yur, to whom they owed no loyalty, had attacked them with arrows. They did not understand why. They only understood the wounds, and their rage had been deadly. But they had offered no threat of harm to the Wandsmen, the Lords Protector. They had forbidden N'Chaka to touch them. As they saw it, they had been loyal to their trust. They were to prevent all humans from reaching the Citadel, but they did not regard N'Chaka as human. They saw nothing wrong in allowing him to go there.

Yet, when Ferdias ordered Gerd to kill N'Chaka in the Citadel, Gerd had wavered dangerously. Only the knowledge of what N'Chaka had done to Flay decided the outcome.

Now there would be another test.

Stark thought of Flay, of the death of Flay, torn and bleeding on the plain. He made the thoughts strong. And he said:

Watch the servants. They may send more arrows to us.

Gerd's lips pulled back. He growled. The gash across his own hip was still raw and painful.

We watch."

4.5 out of 5

The Hounds Of Skaith 4 - Leigh Brackett

"They moved with incredible speed. Their bodies were drawn and thinned for running, thrusting heads carried level with the ground and never losing sight of the prey. The upper torso was all ribcage, deep and narrow, with negligible shoulders, the arms carried like flightless wings outstretched for balance. The incredible legs lifted, stretched, spurned, lifted, with a grotesque perfection of motion that caught the throat with its loveliness even as it terrified with its ferocity.

Gerd said, N'Chaka. Kill?


The hounds sent fear.

That was how they killed. Not with fang or claw. With fear. Cold cruel deadly mind-bolts of it that struck like arrows to the brain, drained the gut, chilled the blood-warm heart until it ceased beating."

4.5 out of 5

The Hounds Of Skaith 3 - Leigh Brackett

"It appears that through the centuries this law has been carried far beyond its original intent. The Farers and the many smaller nonproductive fragments of this thoroughly fragmented culture are now the greater number, with the result that the Wandsmen, in the name of the Lords Protector, hold a third or more of the population in virtual slavery, to supply the rest.

A slavery from which there was no escape, until the Starships came.

Skaith was starved for metals, and the ships could bring those, trading iron and lead and copper for drugs with fantastic properties that were grown in Skaith's narrow tropic zone and for antiquities looted from the ruins of old cities. So the Wandsmen let them stay, and Skeg became a marketplace for the off-worlders.

But the ships brought with them more than iron pigs. They brought hope. And that hope was a corrupting influence.

It led some folk to think of freedom."

4 out of 5

The Hounds Of Skaith 2 - Leigh Brackett

"Gerd thrust his massive head against Stark's knee and said, Hungry.

The Northhounds had been ranging ahead of the men. Born telepaths, they were able to communicate well enough for most needs; but sometimes their talk, like their minds, was overly simple.

Stark asked, Gerd is hungry?

Gerd growled and the coarse white fur bristled along his spine. He looked uneasily at the emptiness surrounding them.

Out there. Hungry.


Not know, N'Chaka. Things.

Out there. Things. Hungry. Well, and why not? Hunger was the great constant over most of this world of Skaith, senile child of the ginger star that spilled its rusty glare out of a dim cold sky onto the dim cold desert.

"Probably a pack of Runners," Ashton said. Having been up this road as a prisoner some months before, he knew the hazards. "I wish we were better armed.""

4.5 out of 5

The Hounds Of Skaith 1 - Leigh Brackett

"It was Stark!"

Yetko glanced sidelong at Skaith-Daughter. "You know him?"

"He was here, a prisoner of the Wandsman Gelmar. He has brought death to the House of the Mother, killing two of our young men when he broke free by the northern gate."

"He will bring more death," said one of the Diviners. "The Eye of the Mother has seen this." He stepped forward and shouted at Yetko. "Why is it that the Northhounds did not kill him? Why, why? Always they guarded the Citadel from intruders. Why did they let him live?"

The Clan Mothers and the counselors echoed him, and Kell à Marg said:

"Tell us why."

"I do not know," said Yetko. "The Lords Protector told us that somehow he had slain the great king-dog Flay and taken control of the pack. They said he was more beast than man. Certainly the hounds went with him to the Citadel, and certainly they killed a number of the servants there." A deep shudder shook him as he remembered. "Certainly when he came to our camp to take riding animals from us, the Northhounds followed at his heels like puppies.""

4.5 out of 5

Penthesilea - Judith Tarr

Alexander the Amazon?

4 out of 5

The Ginger Star 6 - Leigh Brackett

""She has reason to hate and fear me." Stark looked at Baya's tear-stained face and smiled again. "Besides, she was acting only from the noblest motives."

"Hell," said Yarrod, "who isn't?"

When they had eaten they started on again, pushing themselves almost to the limit of endurance, which meant far past Baya's limit. Stark carried her part of the time, staggering a little with weariness himself and fully conscious of every ache bequeathed to him by the late Child of the Sea. They climbed, and the ginger star climbed above them. About midmorning they crossed the ridge and began going down, which was easier at first and then harder as the grade became steeper. The dim path switched back and forth across the face of the slope, but in many places Yarrod led them straight down in order to save time.

They did not quite kill themselves. They did not quite reach the place they were heading for by noon, either. Stark judged that Old Sun was at least an hour past his zenith when Yarrod at last signaled a halt."

4 out of 5

Bookpushers Interview - Ilona Andrews

"Bookpushers: With Curran breaking and entering into Kate's place, there is an almighty important question that we think needs to be asked. Did he eat all of the apple pie while Kate was sleeping? And what else did he get up to?"

4 out of 5

The Ginger Star 5 - Leigh Brackett

""Well," said Halk, smiling his fleeting smile at Stark, "if it's a true prophecy, and you are a fated man, you have nothing to fear, have you?"

"The man who doesn't fear, doesn't live long. I fear everything." He patted Baya's bare thigh. "Even this."

"In that, you're well-advised. You'd do best to kill it."

"We'll see," said Stark. "No need to hurry."

They moved on, following a little still green star that Yarrod called the Lamp of the North.

"If Gelmar does send word to Irnan, he'll do it in the usual manner, by messenger, by the roads. Barring accident, we should be well ahead."

"If," said Halk, "the Dark Man and his baggage don't slow us down."

Stark showed the edges of his teeth. "Halk," he said, "I have a feeling that you and I are not going to be the best of friends."

"Bear with him, Stark," said Yarrod. "He's a fighter, and we need swords more than we need sweet tempers."

That at least was true. Stark saved his breath for walking. And there was plenty of that for all of them."

4.5 out of 5

The Ginger Star 4 - Leigh Brackett

""What will they do? Will they send someone?"

"They have sent someone," Stark said. "Me."

There was a sort of stunned silence. Then Halk asked, "Officially?" The sneer was audible.

"No. They've tried officially to reopen contact with Skaith, and got nowhere."

"So they sent you. Who is your master, then?"

Stark took Halk's meaning and grinned. "No one. I'm a mercenary by trade. Since I was coming anyway, the Minister asked me to find out what I could about matters here and report to him—if I survived. I take no orders from him, and he takes no responsibility for me."

"Then," said Yarrod, "that is the best we can hope for?"

"Short of an invasion, yes. And the Galactic Union dislikes force. So if you want freedom you'll have to fight for it yourselves." Stark shrugged. "You must have realized that Skaith is not the most important planet in the galaxy.""

3.5 out of 5

The Ginger Star 3 - Leigh Brackett

"Stark sunk his head between his shoulders. Talons ripped at the wet ridges of muscle. His own hand found a grip in a web of skin backing the creature's armpit. He straightened his body with a violent thrust and his ankle came free. He pulled himself under the creature's arm.

This Child of the Sea had also made a mistake. It had underestimated its victim. The humans who came its way, capsized fishermen or ritual offerings provided by the landbound worshippers of the Sea-Our-Mother, were easy prey. These poor souls knew they were doomed. Stark wasn't sure, and he had the thought of Ashton and the prophecy to bolster him. He managed to clamp his arms around the sinewy neck from behind, to lock his legs around the incredibly powerful body.

Then he hung on.

That in itself was a nightmare. The creature rolled and sounded, fighting to shake him off. It was like riding an angry whale, and Stark was dying, dying, tightening his hold in a blind red rage, determined not to die first.

When the sodden cracking of the neckbones came at last, he could hardly believe it."

4 out of 5

The Ginger Star 2 - Leigh Brackett

""And then you came to Skaith because of your love for Ashton."


"I don't think I believe you, Earthman. I think you were sent to make more mischief here."

In the reddening dusk Stark saw that they were looking at him in a very odd way, and when Gelmar spoke again his tone had changed subtly, as though the seemingly innocent questions had a secret importance.

"Who is your master? Ashton? The Ministry?"

Stark said, "I have no master." His breathing now was shallow, his ears stretched for little sounds.

"A wolf's-head," said Gelmar softly. "Where is your home?"

"I have none."

"A landless man." This was beginning to have a ritual sound. "Who are your people?"

"I have none. I was not born on Earth. My other name is N'Chaka, Man-Without-a-Tribe."

Baya sighed, a little sharp sound. "Let me ask him," she said. Her eyes were very bright, catching the afterglow. "A wolf's-head, a landless man, a man without a tribe." She reached out and touched Stark with a small hand, and the fingers were cold as ice. "Will you join with me and be a Farer? Then you will have one master, love. And one home, Skaith. And one people. Us."

Stark said, "No."

She drew back from him, and her eyes seemed to grow brighter with some light of their own.

She said to Gelmar, "He is the Dark Man of the prophecy."

Astonished, Stark said, "What prophecy?""

4 out of 5

The Ginger Star 1 - Leigh Brackett

"Stark got his final view of Pax from the tender, going out to the spaceport moon, and that was the best view he had had of it. Pax is the chief habitable planet of Vega. It is also a city, and the proud boast of that hopefully and precariously christened world is that not one single grain of corn grows upon it, nor is one single useful item manufactured.

The city soars up into the sky. It spreads out over every landmass and swallows up small seas. It burrows underground, level upon level. Large areas of it are especially conditioned and equipped for non-humans. Everything comes into it from the outside. All supplies are shipped to the lunar docks and brought on down by freight tenders. Nothing lives on Pax but bureaucrats, diplomats, and computers.

Pax is the administrative center of the Galactic Union, a democratic federation of star-worlds flung across half the Milky Way and including, very incidentally, the worlds of little Sol. In this place the millions of problems besetting billions of people inhabiting thousands of diverse planets are reduced to tidy and easily manageable abstractions on tapes, cards, and endless sheets of paper.

A paper world, Stark thought, full of paper people.

Simon Ashton was not made of paper. Time, and accomplishments in planetary administration, had promoted him to a comfortable office at the Ministry of Planetary Affairs and a comfortable apartment in a mile-high building which he need not ever leave, if he did not wish to, except to take one of the moving walkways to work. Still, like many of his colleagues in that Ministry, Ashton had never lost his rawhide, taut-wire energy. He often went into the field, knowing that the problems of actual beings in actual places could not be solved merely by the regurgitation of data from a bank of clacking machines.

He had gone once too often into the field. He had not come back.

Stark received that information on one of the un-licked worlds outside the Union, where life was a little more relaxed for people like himself. He was, as the old phrase had it, a wolf's-head—a totally masterless man in a society where everyone respectable belonged to something. He bestowed his allegiance only where he chose, usually for pay. He was a mercenary by trade, and there were enough little wars going on both in and out of the Union, enough remote peoples calling on him for the use of his talents, so that he was able to make a reasonable living doing what he did best.


4 out of 5

A brief history of Science Fiction in Romania up to 1990 - Various Various

Exactly what it says.

4 out of 5

The Secret Of Sinharat 4 - Leigh Brackett

""You're lying to your people," Stark said flatly. "You're making false promises, to lead them into war."

Kynon was genuinely puzzled by Stark's anger. "But of course!" he said. "Is there anything new or strange in that?"

Luhar spoke up, his voice acid with hate. "Watch out for him, Kynon. He'll sell you out, he'll cut your throat, if he thinks it best for the barbarians."

Delgaun said, "Stark's reputation is known all over the system. There's no need to tell us that again."

"No." Kynon shook his head, looking very candidly at Stark. "We sent for you, didn't we, knowing that? All right."

He stepped back a little, so that the others were included in what he was going to say.

"My people have a just cause for war. They go hungry and thirsty, while the City-States along the Dryland border hog all the water sources and grow fat. Do you know what it means to watch your children die crying for water on a long march, to come at last to the oasis and find the well sanded in by a storm, to go on again, trying to save your people and your herd? Well, I do! I was born and bred in the Drylands, and many a time I've cursed the border states with a tongue like a dry stick."

4 out of 5